Friday, January 02, 2004

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

So I was at the gym this afternoon, and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? was on one of the TVs. I wasn't really paying attention and didn't have the sound on for it, so I don't know anything about the contestant or her background, but I happened to look up and see the question, "In the Bible, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are called the _____." The answer choices were Psalms, Gospels, Testaments, and something else I don't remember. The contestant used her 50/50 (where two of the wrong answers are eliminated for you), and then chose Psalms. And I was shocked.

Now, I'm Jewish, and have fairly limited experience with the New Testament (or, for that matter, most of the Old Testament, being as secular as I am), and I knew that the answer was Gospels without a second thought. I mean, who doesn't know that? I mean, lots of people all over the world don't, I'm sure, but from my mainstream American perspective (and I'm just assuming that any contestant on Millionaire is a mainstream American) it just seems like common knowledge.

I started thinking that maybe there's no such thing as "common knowledge," and that I take an awful lot of the things I know for granted. I also have no idea why I know them, or why I would ever need them. The next time I looked up at the TV, the question was something like "This singer had a theater built at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas for her show, 'A New Day,'" and I knew without the multiple choice that it was Celine Dion. I hate Celine Dion. So why do I know or care about her Vegas show? How much space in my brain is that nugget taking up that could be used instead for politics or science? Can I trade it in somehow? Can I wipe out all memories of Celine Dion altogether to make room for something else?

The other day a friend was talking to me about how he couldn't put a lot of MP3s on his computer because he didn't have enough memory.

"Do you mean disk space?" I asked.
"Oh I guess. What's the other thing? Not memory -- RAM."
"RAM," I explained with an exasperated sigh, "is memory. It means random access memory."

Why did I assume that everyone should know that? I feel like I learned what it meant sometime in elementary school when I started using computers, but why should anyone else know it? I guess I was taken aback because this friend is a really smart person. Much smarter than I am, probably, so how can he not know something that I know without a moment's thought?

It all makes me think that maybe I should try to be a little less judgmental and critical in the new year.

Or maybe I should just try to get on Millionaire and use my winnings to hire a staff who can screen everyone I interact with and educate them accordingly before I have to talk to them.

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